My life diverged from the grandiose plans of my youth some time ago. At 35, I am the father of three little ones and the husband of a darling wife. I am not ten years away from the presidency of the United States, as I had once scribbled down in a high school notebook. As the old saying goes, "God had bigger plans for me." Or perhaps, I have learned, they are "smaller plans," really— hidden ways to get me to a destination still far away. Like so many others, I am on a byway to holiness. Unexpectedly, I live the quiet and hidden life that I never dreamed of.
I am self-conscious when I speak to others about my life as a husband and a father because I tend to focus on how hard it is. I have been told that it is because my kids are so young and that "it will get easier someday." I sometimes wonder if I long for that "easier-some-day" too much. My wife warns me not to overlook the present. There are indeed so many precious moments here. But it is often overshadowed by tantrums, dirty diapers, and food stuck to the walls. My life as a family man is a crucible, paradoxically constructed by pillars of joy.
When I lay my head down at night, I sigh with regret at how I handled myself throughout the day. I think of how impatient I got with the wife and kids, how I overate, or how much time I wasted surfing the internet. As Molly Skaggs sang, "oh, shame is a prison as cruel as the grave." My Catholic faith gives me access to a vast body of knowledge and the ability to become highly self-aware. There were times when I counted these facts as a source of pride. But special knowledge— that blinding light of the Holy Spirit—will give us the dressing down we need in time. This knowledge will necessarily humble me the deeper it gets into my bones. The goal, of course, is to convince me that I really need saving after all.
When I think of my faults and those mistakes I seem to make in perpetuity, I watch them pile up high, like an amorphous, shadowy tower. Who could possibly conquer this hill?
Someone once said that "suffering that is not transformed is transmitted," and I think that is true. My emotional wounds—those deep fissures in my soul—must be bound up and cured, or they become like curses.
The Israelites were saved by God and lead out of bondage spectacularly. It was a series of miraculous feats that delivered them from pharaoh's trenches. The one that stands out to me the most is that pillar of fire. What a breathtaking and terrifying sight it must have been. But after having seen it, how could they ever doubt again? Or question God? How could I?
It seems that no matter what wonders spring me from the snares of my foes, it is so easy to forget them all…
As the long years of life press on, as children come and bless and challenge, it is easy to forget that wonder and to find me in the desert again, many long years from my spectacular departure, grumbling away at the sustenance falling from the sky all around me.
I once wrote that in a particular moment of despair, I heard Jesus say from the cross, "fix your eyes on me, and I will lead you to the chasm of my heart's love for you." It marked a turning point for me at the time as I made my way into deeper waters of faith. I understood the promise that if I kept my eyes on Jesus, everything would be okay.
Did I train my eyes on Jesus, just like he asked me to do?
The Spirit answers this question for me in a surprising way. When I heard those words before, Jesus was on the cross. But today, he is on the floor, playing innocently, asking for his sippy cup, a snack, or some playtime. Or maybe he needs me to tuck him in or give him a snuggle. In my aim for the spiritual stars of mystical ecstasy, I am instead brought low. Jesus, I realize, has come to me in the little ones at my feet.
Somewhere in this desert is a burning bush, hiding amongst the rocks and in that place is a laser beam of glory that blinds the phantoms all around me. To find my way to that hallowed spot again, be reminded to take off my shoes and do nothing else but behold —well…learning to do that may require faith like a child and the school of fatherhood to teach me.
Charlie is a mid-thirties guy who resides in sunny Florida with his small family. Charlie holds a B.A. in Religion and Apologetics and works in the financial services industry by day, writing about the Catholic Faith and Taming the Wild places in the human heart in his spare time. His writing has been featured in places like the Catholic Stand, SpiritualDirection.com, Catholic Exchange,Catholic in Recovery and in print at Shalom Tidings. Charlie serves as the Managing Editor for Taming the Wilds and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.